When I resigned from the Katy school board a year early in 1996, I spent the next few months addressing the Board in the Open Forum part of the Regular School Board meeting.  The press coverage of my efforts was not what I wanted, but it was expected.

After a few months of frustration with the bad press coverage of School Board meetings and especially my presentations, I sent the following letter to Stephanie Johnson, the This Week correspondent at the time and to the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board.  As we all know, those people have no interest in actual happenings in the west end of Houston. This episode centered on the SAT scores and their presentation to the Board.

Dear Ms. Johnson:

Although your reporting of KISD board activities and my interaction with them has been for the most part over time fairly accurate, I must protest the statements made by you in your article that appears on September 11, 1996 in the "This Week" section of the Chronicle under the headline "KISD:  TEA reason district does not use spelling books."

Since you attended the August 26 board meeting, you had full opportunity to hear my exact words with reference to the SAT issue.  I have also offered in the past to discuss with you at any time my participation in school district matters, so if you had a question you knew you were free to call me.  To print Joe Kimmel's remarks "He said McGarr's  Aug. 26 allegation that the Scholastic Aptitude [sic] Test was re-centered so scores would look better and please the Department of Education--which she said is 'aligned with liberal-leaning boards [sic no end quotation mark] doesn't make sense." is irresponsible journalism.  Mr. Kimmel would like to discredit all of my remarks so that the public thinks I am the one who does not understand the issues, when in fact it is Mr. Kimmel who does not understand.

Two points need to be made.  First Mr. Kimmel in his paranoia thought that I was accusing the KISD board of being liberal-leaning.  I made no such statement.  Second, Mr. Kimmel obviously was unable to understand the connection that I made between the un-taxed foundations run by liberal-leaning boards of directors, the Department of Education and the Katy school board.  His inability to understand is indicative of his problem.

Since you evidently missed it the first time, here is a copy of my remarks:

"Members of the Board, Dr. Merrell,

One of your presentations tonight is on the 1996 SAT scores.  The SAT scores were the last definitive measurement of academic progress.  Unfortunately that statement is no longer true.  Why will I not be surprised if the SAT scores for the KISD Class of 1996 are up?  As you listen to the presentation to be made shortly, will you be formulating questions so you will understand these scores?  Are the scores really up or is this just another exercise in funny numbers?

Will you be given any figures about the rank of Texas with regard to KISD's scores being hailed as better than the state average?  That's an important fact to know.  Over the years we have been pretty much at the bottom as a state among the 22 states that use the SAT for college entrance.  And when KISD is touted as being better than the national average will you stop to think about all the low achieving students who are included in that national average?

Will you receive a clear and accurate explanation of how the test was changed in 1981, 1993, and now again in 1996?

Will you ask why the test was re-centered so that while only 25 students nationally in 1993-94 on all seven tests given to that year's class scored a perfect 1600, this year 137 kids who took the April 1995 test alone made a "perfect" 1600? Will you ask about that?  Do you understand what re-centering means?  You deserve a clear explanation so you can determine for yourselves how bad these scores are!

Will you think to ask why re-centering was necessary?  Can it have anything to do with the fact that the College Board is funded by the Department of Education, and the DOE has a vested interest in making it look like students are doing better since most of them are receiving an OBE education?  The College Board has joined with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Aetna Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Sid Richardson Foundation and other foundations with liberal thinking boards that are already well known for their restructured education endorsements and funding.  Have you ever been told these facts?  Can it be that the DOE saw how realignment of the TAAS-type tests that states give has made the states' scores look good, and that the same process would make SAT test takers look good?  Will it be explained to you that this realignment process is simply a way to dumb down the tests so they match the dumbed down curriculum?

Since there has been already a great deal of discussion about the lower 25% of each KISD Senior class, will you hear about them?  Are they still scoring on average less than 700 (now 820)?  Is that not a serious concern for this district?  And what about all the students who did not even bother to take the SAT?  Are you going to just forget about them?  When you add that percentage to the percentage who cannot score above 700 (now 820,) about one third to one half of KISD students are not being prepared for any kind of post graduate education.  Are you not alarmed by that fact?  Does it not bother you that the College Board has decided to make students look better, without actually doing anything but make it look like they are achieving better scores?

When you are told that "more students" took the SAT in KISD as an excuse for lower scores, will you ask how many more or who those students were?  Also please do not accept without question that it is slower students who are entering the pool.  In KISD it is probably smarter students!

At no time since I have been attending board meetings has anyone ever bothered to point out the changes that were made in 1993 to the SAT.  Among these changes are allowing the use of a calculator (test takers don't have to think), giving more time to answer fewer questions (used to be 85 questions in 60 minutes, now it's 78 questions in 75 minutes), eliminating the analogy section, adding a writing sample that is graded subjectively, (adjusted for gender and racial bias, whatever that means), testing for problem solving skills, testing vocabulary within the context of the reading passage and testing for applied math abilities.  As we are seeing in the regular curriculum, less emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge is the keynote of this test.

Better colleges will still be taking the top 2% of our students, but now they will just have a more difficult time figuring out who they are.  In the meantime, this test is a fraud, because students and their parents will think they have done better than they have.  But then, isn't that the purpose of all this stuff?"

(There should be a tape recording of the August board meeting at the KSID Administration Building to verify the accuracy of my statement.)

My presentations to the board since I resigned from it are admittedly hard-hitting.  I believe I have a responsibility, that I was unable to carry out as a member of the board, to expose the flawed and faulty presentations that are made to the board as well as other erroneous information that is given to them, regardless of the source, and which emanates from them.  By law, the school board is supposed to receive and to give out factual, clear presentations on student achievement, and any unfavorable information is also supposed to be imparted.  That eventuality does not occur in KISD.  The board is given sugar-coated information so that everything appears wonderful, and thus the public is also misled.  I think that practice is harmful to our students, and I will continue to present factual counter information and prod the board to do the job they were elected to do.  For you to describe my monthly remarks as an effort to "use open forum sessions to publicly attack the board" is irresponsible on your part to say the least.  My remarks have never constituted an  "attack on the board," but, are rather statements made to show that their actions are faulty.  Re-read my presentation and please tell me which part of it is an "attack" on the local school board.  Each month I have presented factual information to show the public that this board is operating in a manner that is not conducive to allowing students of this school district to receive a sound, academic education.  Your indication of an "attack" implies that my information is not factual.  Please tell me which bit of information has not been factual.

You might also want to read the definition of attack in your favorite dictionary.  For you to proclaim that I am attacking the board when I am only exercising my rights as a private citizen to question what they do, is unfair.  I have not noticed your proclaiming that any of the many other parents who repeatedly appear before the board are attacking the board!  I certainly did not believe that the Houston Chronicle's editorial board was attacking the KISD board when they accused them a few years back of voting in executive session.  Their vigilance allowed for a correction of an action that Ken Burton and I had protested when it occurred. The Chronicle was just doing a responsible job of reporting the facts much as I have been doing.  My efforts would be helped if YOU were as vigilant.  You should be reading the monthly expense reports, comparing this year's TAAS and SAT scores with last year's and with other similar school districts' scores, questioning the employment of so many administrators (and the fact that they are being imported wholesale from the east side of town), giving some space to the phonics vs. whole language debate as are other local newspapers, following up on the many charges made by parents at the monthly open forum part of the board meeting and so on ad infinitum.

If I were questioning the credibility of anyone with my remarks on the SAT scores, it was the administrator who continues to bring this slanted information to the board.  Mr. Burton and I are simply trying to open the eyes of the public and to force the current board to do what they are supposed to be doing (provide oversight of the superintendent!)  Are you against open discussion by citizens about public issues?

Might I suggest that my worthy goal would be much easier if you too could ask pertinent questions of the board members and stop acting like a door mat and letting them use you to bolster their silly egos?  I would imagine that somewhere in your education, you learned how to ask questions that would lead to the truth. May I suggest that you try to remember that technique?  Our students will be much better off if you could.  In response to my remarks (above) that approximately a third of the KISD high school seniors are unable to score above 700 (now 820) on the re-centered version of the SAT, Larry Moore later in the meeting, in an effort to cover up the poor academic instruction of this district, asked the presenter if these low scores meant that these students were failures (implying, of course, that I was calling the students failures)!  Mr. Moore, as usual, missed the point:  the students are not failures; it is the academic education that is being provided by KISD and endorsed by the school board, including Mr. Moore,  that is the failure.  You were sitting there when Mr. Moore made that statement.  How could you not comment on his effort to twist my statement?  That is irresponsible reporting, in my opinion.  I am unable to understand why you always allow the board members to respond to my remarks, but I am never allowed the same opportunity.  Do you not wish to be fair in your reporting?

Obviously Mr. Kimmel is feeling paranoid, else he would not have made such an egregious mistake of having believed that he heard the KISD board labeled as liberal-leaning when no such statement by me was made.  My use of that term was used solely with regard to the boards of directors of certain un-taxed foundations that are helping to fund these ridiculous restructured education efforts.  Mr. Kimmel can reveal his inability to understand the spoken word if he likes.  You, however, have practiced flawed journalism in allowing his erroneous remarks to stand uncorrected in your article and by defaming my efforts to improve the education of children in KISD schools.

I am requesting that you print a retraction and a correction of your errors immediately.

Mary McGarr

[Obviously that request was wishful thinking on my part.  However, Ms. Johnson soon disappeared, for whatever reason, from the pages of the This Week section of the Chronicle and was replaced by someone else. And yes, I have since indicated that our school board is liberal in its political beliefs, but in 1996, I don't think that was true.  I simply think they were ignorant of the restructured education initiatives going on all over America. Even though Joe Adams is still the only one of the group that is still hanging on, some of them are even yet STILL ignorant of the restructured education initiatives that are going on all over America, and which at this point in time are pretty much very securely in place!]